Grab yourself a sipper and let's get to know each other.
So, what is Workhorse Rye?
THANKS FOR ASKING. Workhorse Rye is a progressive whiskey and bitters company based in San Francisco, California that makes organic rye whiskeys aged in wine barrels. Whiskey has been made and aged in generally the same fashion since its conception hundreds of years ago, and because of all the room for experimentation, we like to make our own path.
Our products are designed for those who care about craft beverages of all kinds. Given that our whiskey comes from craft beer and that we use wine barrels and coffee, we believe the whiskeys and bitters we make cross boundaries in a way that those who say they are "typically not a whiskey person" will be pleasantly surprised.
Bitters are classic and crucial components of a cocktail; they are basically complex flavor extracts, like the vanilla extract added to a batch of cookies. They have been prized for centuries for their digestion benefits and flavor additions. Our methods of making bitters, and implementing them into food, desserts, and drinks are quite distinct, as described in more detail below. The main difference, we use a base of rye whiskey where most use neautral spirit (vodka). This brings new layers of flavor that are usually not seen in bitters.
What are you trying to accomplish?
Again, sweet of you to ask. We are trying to raise money to simply make more whiskey and bitters to bring to your local quality-focused cocktail bars and your home. The more money we raise, the more communities we can partner with a supremely organic and creative product. (for more information on whether our whiskey is available on the shelf in your local liquor store, please read the FAQs)
If we reach our goal of $25,000 we can expand our selection of California and New York specific products (and sell directly to you online internationally), however if we get to $50,000 or beyond we can establish new relationships with organic rye farmers, and partner with other whiskey loving cities and countries.
We think the level of quality that craft beer and wine makers have established hasn't been followed in mass within the spirit industry, and we aim to change that. Because of that, as a company we are focused on:
1. Crafting uniquely delicious whiskeys with odd recipes and aging techniques -- you will not see these recipes and methods anywhere else
2. Sourcing ingredients from sustainable and organic agriculture. We want future generations to drink delicious things too. It is important to us to educate the consumer on our practices, and make sure that agriculture is brought back into the spirits discussion, as it has been left out for too long. This stuff comes from plants, and how we choose to treat and grow those plants effects not only the final product but the environment and the economy. We are very passionate about this, and we know this can be a personal conviction, but regardless you can taste the difference
3. Drinking better and drinking with intention -- we want our brand to portray craftsmanship and intention in everything that we do -- we are focused more on education than we are actual drinking
4. Building community through teaming up with like-minded brewers, bartenders, wine makers, and farmers in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York to make whiskeys specific to both regions.
5. Supporting American made products -- From the glass we use to the whiskey inside the glass, our company supports our neighbors, this is so dear to us and will never change
Got it. So, who is Workhorse Rye?
Workhorse Rye was founded by Rob Easter & David Gordon in 2011 in a foggy backyard in the Mission District of San Francisco. Educated at Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, Rob brought the knowledge back to San Francisco inspired to make something completely different from anything offered previously. In the past two years we've managed to build a solid archive of very unique whiskeys all while funding this from our day jobs (Rob is a bartender and distiller at Kings County Distillery, while David is an artist) and a little help from a couple friends.
Since then, a lot has happened. We've been pouring our whiskeys at cocktail and food events and for critical tastemakers, bartenders, sommeliers, chefs, and of course our thirsty friends all around the country in order to develop and critique our process.
We want to be as independent as possible, so self-financing the slow and steady way has been our route. Acquiring local organic grain requires a lot of buying power. So far we have been creative and resourceful enough to get the good stuff, but to move forward we could use a kick start!
Now we are ready to offer these products to all our favorite bars and most importantly to YOU! RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.
Our first two whiskeys we are releasing this spring in California are called Palehorse and Darkhorse. They both have our distinct flagship recipe but differ in their methods of aging. We've also partnered with coffee professional Four Barrel to develop a coffee rye bitters to be released soon.
Watch the videos below to learn more.
Palehorse is aged in used whiskey barrels (like Scotch and Tequila are aged) which in the end makes a Frankenstein whiskey of sorts. A Frankenstein whiskey in that the recipe is very American (rye) but the aging style lands somewhere in between Scotch and Japanese whisky (used American oak barrels).
Tasting notes: Palehorse starts with a spicy apple cider and sweet malt mouthfeel, finishes with a mild toasty oak aftertaste. You could say it smells like a rye but drinks like a rye mixed with a fruity and smoke-free Speyside Scotch.
Darkhorse is aged in used French Oak red wine barrels from a number of wineries inside the city of San Francisco and in Napa. Each release of Darkhorse will have a hand-written notation of which winery the barrels came from. This type of batch-to-batch distinction lends a sort of fleeting nature to each release, and we think that makes each barrel rather special.
Tasting notes: Darkhorse has an upfront and dominating flavor of chocolate covered strawberry, then lingers to a lighter port, leaving a baking spice and jam note to hold on to. Its quite bright overall. We like to think it drinks like a cross between an aged rye and a Burgundy. We think that mainly because it is a fact with empirical evidence.
COFFEE RYE BITTERS
The challenge in trying to extract the essence of a coffee bean is oxidation. Coffee decays rapidly, which smells and tastes rough! Because of that we went straight our friends Four Barrel, proper experts to tackle this issue. No staleness in our juice!
Tasting notes: WHR Coffee Rye Bitters behave in many ways, depending on what you add them to. If you dash a bit on top of an iced coffee, you get an herbal, spiced drink similar to a New Orleans Style Coffee. Utilized in a classic cocktail like the Old Fashioned, you get a red fruit and coffee tone, underhanded with a touch of citrus and pepper/rye spice. If you add a few dashes to a salad dressing or a batch of cookies, prepare for elevation.
"I met the Workhorse guys back in 2011 at SF Cocktail week, just after they had made their first batch of Palehorse. Immediately, I was won over by their unique approach of making whiskey styles that hadn't been done before. Workhorse whiskeys are malty, fragrant, layered -- really just fantastic. I've had the privilege of tasting their whiskeys and bitters for almost three years now, and I've been a fan of everything they've put in a glass. The fact that there are bartenders behind the brand makes Workhorse products even more interesting, and also purpose-designed for our trade. Rob is one of my go-to bartenders for cocktail events that I produce in New York, and we always have a great time working together. I'm looking forward to working with these guys for a long time to come, both as a friend and as a supporter of their products."
Founder of Art of the Drink
"These guys played a major part in a lovely NY Fashion Week party we co-hosted last year in Brooklyn. This particular event was really buzzing, with the strongest point of focus being on the Workhorse cocktails (all puns fully intended). It was as enjoyable straight as it was mixed with their coffee bitters and other fresh and choice accoutrements. At most of these sort of events you'll find watered down well beverages... but this was not allowed by Workhorse, instead the drinks were brilliant."
Rising Sun Jean Co. in Pasadena, Ca
"The guys at Workhorse are constantly working towards creating the best elixirs imaginable, and push spirituous boundaries constantly. Whether it is creating rye whiskeys with a higher proportion of rye grain than many would dream of, concocting fortified spirits from grain where others would use grapes, or creating magical cocktail possibilities with via an acute sense of what works in bitters, Workhorse is surrounded by a sense of excitement and possibility. These guys are beyond the zeitgeist, they are making things happen. Tasty, Tasty things!"
Manager of Monk's Kettle in San Francisco
How do you actually make this whiskey?
We are "gypsy distillers"!
What? YES. Gypsies. That means we don't *own* a distillery. Rather we utilize other people's distilleries, but make the recipes and products ourselves. This allows for lower overhead, and for all capital to go directly into making whiskey. Its already a popular and viable model for brewers and wine makers, so why not utilize those principles for distilling?
We own our brand and recipes, but we lease equipment, time, and space when appropriate. We always do the appropriate thing. Speaking of which, did we mention that our whiskey comes from organic grains? WE DID? Right...
We want to have the best impact possible on your taste buds AND the environment. The most appropriate option in our eyes is committing to organic. Simple as that.
ALL of the proceeds from this campaign go into making more organic rye whiskeys and building out our facility to better develop bitters and spirits around the country.
The more we raise on Kickstarter, the more whiskey we can make, and the more towns with which we can partner.
What is whiskey?
Did you know that whiskey comes from beer?
Whiskey is essentially distilled (but hop-less) beer. That's a little oversimplified, but pretty close. We make malted rye, barley, and wheat beers at Thirsty Bear Organic Brewery. We love working with them and we love their commitment to quality.
We distill said beers on Treasure Island in an old Navy jailhouse. It's kind of an eerie place, but the joint makes great booze. Seen below is the 250 gallon capacity still with which we have produced our whiskeys for the past two years.
So why is your whiskey so "progressive"?
Outstanding question. In short, long fermentation, distinct recipes, and used French oak red barrel aging put our whiskeys in a league of their own.
We like the longer ferment because it brings fruity and estery flavors up front, like a Belgian ale. "Long" fermentation in this case means a little over two weeks. Most beer made for whiskey (the term for a brew made to be distilled is wash) is fermented between three and five days. We like to ferment a bit longer, a little over two weeks. If you're a brewer, you know that yeast type, temperature, and fermentation length are huge factors that make or break the flavor of your beer.
We like dreaming up unique recipes. Bourbon Whiskey and Rye Whiskey are the whiskeys for which America is known. Simply put, a Bourbon recipe is mainly corn and topped off with a little barley and maybe some rye, depending on the maker. Recipes for Rye Whiskey are at least half rye, with corn and barley filling out the rest. Scotch Whisky recipes are either Single Malt (all malted barley) or Blended (a mix of Single Malt and other neutral whiskys from corn and wheat). For our first recipe of 70% Malted Rye, 20% Barley, 10% Wheat, we took inspiration from all these recipes but definitely landed on our own breed of a cross between American Whiskey and Scotch Whisky. You won't see this recipe on any other whiskey currently on the market.
We like big barrels and used barrels. That means that the spirit gets to do the talking, and its not masked by a lot of barrel taste since the previous liquid took a lot of that barrel taste out. Using big barrels means that the spirit can take a little longer to age than other craft whiskeys on the market, but we're ok with that because taste, not timing, is our guide.
We like French Oak. Lightly toasted French Oak barrels give a spirit taste and smell that is WAY different than a new charred American oak barrel, like those legally required for aging Bourbon. French Oak barrels are a bit more subtle and nuanced in their flavor addition, just a softer wood in general. We use both, but are very conservative in our New American Oak usage and quite flaming liberal with our Used French Oak usage. The construction of French Oak barrels is a little more tedious and time intensive than American Oak barrels, and thusly they come with a fancier price tag.
The exclusive use of French Oak red wine barrels for aging whiskeys is exceptionally atypical and it is one of the reasons why our rye whiskey is super unique, not to mention delicious. Our favorite source of barrels is Sutton Cellars right here in the city of San Francisco. Yep! Wine made in the city!
"For Gentleman and Savage Alike!"
What does that even mean?
When doing initial "market research" (read: drinking and exploring other whiskeys) before founding Workhorse Rye, we caught wind of a couple holes in the whiskey world. Rather than try to compete with big brands with deep pockets, we decided to carve a niche and stay true to that. Which is a convenient choice because we couldn't compete with them anyway! The two areas we found being under served are:
I. Whiskeys with odd recipes and experimental aging techniques.
II. Truly handmade, organic products that didn't cost an arm and a leg.
For us, its important that we satisfy the connoisseur of whiskey as well as the rookie. There also needs to be a few whiskeys in our arsenal that even WE could actually afford to buy... Hence we are hellbent on satisfying these metaphorical gentlemen and savages simultaneously.
That's one of the reasons we chose to be gypsy distillers; we are able to keep our bottle cost a little more manageable, AND we can distill our product almost anywhere.
We have put in a year of planning and preparation for distilling in New York. We are hoping this Kickstarter will propel us enough to start full production in New York as well as San Francisco. While Rob worked for "New York City's Oldest Whiskey Distillery" Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn (which by the way is the *oldest* at a mere four years old!) the idea to make Workhorse Rye in a distillery in New York was an obvious one.
This way, we can make whiskey from beer made in San Francisco, age it in red wine barrels from San Francisco, meanwhile we make whiskey from beer made in New York, and age that whiskey in New York red wine barrels. Fancy that!
What are bitters?
Bitters are complex flavor extracts, like the vanilla extract added to a batch of cookies. They are flavor extracts extracted by alcohol. The alcohol we use is our rye and California brandy. Instead of just one ingredient like vanilla extract though, they usually contain extracts of bark, roots, herbs, and fruits. Aromatic bitters of some kind are an essential player in any cocktail.
Bitters add balance to sweetness in a cocktail or food, exactly like hops do in beer.
They also taste great on their own in a soda, iced coffee, and can even add great depth to a meal or dessert.
To make this as scientific and delicious as possible, we teamed up with coffee professionals Four Barrel in San Francisco. The commitment Four Barrel has to directly sourcing high elevation, top quality coffee is kind of a big deal. Direct sourcing (or direct trade) is rare and we love to support such an effort. Direct trade yields a higher quality product and the farmers get paid a fair wage.
Note that while bitters are high in alcohol, the government classifies them as "non-potable" alcohol because they are additions (dashes) to drinks and dishes, rather than an actual bottle of booze. Therefore it is legal to directly sell these online, and at say, a coffee shop. No liquor license needed.
MIXING with WORKHORSEWe love sipping our whiskey neat, but have no fear of mixing with it too.
Its not sacrilege to mix with a quality spirit AS LONG AS the mixer is of the same caliber. We've found that Palehorse is great in refreshing shaken cocktails, meaning those made with some sort of fresh juice or heavy mixer, like a Whiskey Sour or Daiquiri. It also passes with flying colors in stirred drinks like a classic Sazerac.
Darkhorse doesn't taste dissimilar to how it looks: regal, crisp, and sorry to brag but also pretty elegant. You will tragically regret shaking this whiskey in a cocktail. Instead it is best to explore this one in stirred drinks without juice or aeration. Here's a couple examples of drinks we like with Workhorse, for more you can visit our website.
The Onward Upward Cocktail
This next cocktail was designed by us for a close friend's wedding. The wedding was based on the union of not only their two families as individuals but also the melding of their two cultures: Mexican and "American" (whatever that means). How we decided to represent that was simple, a cocktail showcasing the union of a Mexican spirit and an American spirit.
Plus, both families shared a love for old world wines so Vermouth had to be involved. EASY AND DELICIOUS! This cocktail is crazy tasty and has become a favorite since that day.
1 oz. Darkhorse Whiskey (the American part of course)
1 oz. Mezcal (we are fans of Fidencio and Ilegal mezcal)
3/4 oz. Sutton Cellars "Brown Label" Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
Numerous dashes of bitters, you should probably use our Coffee Rye Bitters
You'll discover that Palehorse has a nice apple fragrance that is well substituted in drinks calling for Rhum Agricole, a fresh sugar cane distillate with funky fruit flavors. So for example, a classic Daiquiri is quite refreshing with Palehorse...
2 oz. Palehorse Whiskey
3/4 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz. Raw/Turbinado Simple Syrup.
Shake with lots of ice (in a cocktail shaker!) so hard and strain into a coupe glass. Put a lime wheel on top if you want to be proper fancy.
NOTE: If you haven't had a proper Daiquiri before, then please, do yourself a service and go get one from your local top notch cocktail bar! Our favorite joints to drink a Daiquiri are Maison Premiere in Brooklyn, Bar Agricole in San Francisco, and The Lion's Share in San Diego.
Thank you for your time! We hope you enjoy our whiskeys and bitters as much as we do!
Risks and challenges
Fortunately for us, and you, we are already hand-crafting whiskey and bitters. The real risks have already been dealt with or otherwise attenuated. There have been many real risks in this project, but we learned a lot from them, and for that we are thankful. Thank you dear and precious risk, for you have provided us with reward!
Timing is the only risk you have to consider, and that is based on the TTB's (Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau) timely approval of our labels. There is no guaranteed schedule with the government, and since there is just ONE department of professionals assessing each beer, wine, and spirit label in the USA... sometimes things get backed up. And sometimes they deny your label and make you change wording because, well, they are... the government. So there's that.
The risks below are highly unlikely to become a reality and might just need to be filed under "fictional".
Risk #1: You hate our bitters.
RISK-BUSTING FACT #1: You will not hate our rewards. Our bitters taste like magic. Because of the recipe, method of coffee extraction, and quality of coffee, there is a not another product like this one. Rob has been making bitters for three years; he and David have worked with Four Barrel Coffee and a few other "bitters pro's" to make a damn good and versatile addition to your bar and home collection.
RISK #2: You hate your flask or shirt.
RISK-OBLITERATING FACT #2: All of our products are of top-shelf quality and made in the US (or in two cases, countries with ethical manufacturing laws). We would have produced our flasks and Glencairn glasses in the US but no one makes those items to the level of quality and functionality that we want, so we had to go to England and Scotland. Which isn't so bad!
Risk #3: You get your bitters late.
RISK-DESTROYING FACT #3: Okay, this one could be real, as stated above. So, let's mark this as a "risk accepting fact". We will be in communication with our backers throughout the entire process and be honest about the progress and timeline. Our estimated delivery periods assume a bit of delay; we've built that in. In some cases you may get a reward before or after that period, but we will kep in touch with our backers and manufacturers throughout the process to stay as true as possible to our timeline.
- (36 days)